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VA Whistle-blowers Testify About Retaliation

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Veterans Affairs hospital scandal was the subject of a House hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday evening with testimony from VA whistle-blowers who claim supervisors and top management retaliated against them when they uncovered wrongdoing.

Dr. Katherine Mitchell, a medical director at the Phoenix VA Health Care System, told the House Veterans Affairs committee that she was routinely retaliated against for reporting health and safety concerns.

Dr. Mitchell told the House panel that “approximately 20 percent of the ER nurses would retaliate against” her and “would stop” doing her orders for patients and “would refuse to answer questions in the nurses station.”

“The VA in my opinion has routinely intimidated any employee who brings forth information that is contrary to the public image that the VA wishes to project,” Mitchell told the panel.

Dr. Christian Head worked for the VA in Los Angeles and told congressional lawmakers that his boss ridiculed him at a year-end party for blowing the whistle on fraud. “In front of close to 300 individuals I was labeled a rat,” Head testified.

Scott Davis, program specialist at the VA National Health Eligibility Center, told the panel that despite the criticism nothing is changing at the VA. “Every day a window of opportunity closes on a veteran to receive quality health care because of the inaction of senior VA officials.  Some veterans even face the burden of being billed for care their service has earned them,” Davis said.

Earlier in the day Tuesday, acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson decried "intimidation or retaliation...against any employee who raises a hand to identify a problem, make a suggestion, or report what may be a violation in law, policy, or our core values."

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Tuesday that changes are being made to the Office of Medical Inspector to create what Gibson said was “a strong internal audit function which will ensure issues of care quality and patient safety remain at the forefront."

The OMI had allegedly been playing down the effect of treatment errors and appointment delays.

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